The capture of three IDF soldiers from the Israeli-Lebanese border last Saturday not only raises the danger of a third front for Israel—in addition to the upheaval in the Palestinian territories and the tensions with Israel Arabs inside sovereign Israel—but it offers the United States the first opportunity to test the intentions and capabilities of Syria's new yet inexperienced president, Bashar al-Asad.
As violence continues to flare in parts of Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, attention is increasingly focused on the Palestinian group responsible for much of the rioting and confrontation—the Fatah Tanzim. Just yesterday, the leader of the Tanzim, Marwan Barghouthi, ridiculed the ceasefire reached in Paris as useless. That the agreement was so short-lived highlights the growing importance of this quasi-civilian strike force.
The fact that U.S. and Israeli officials—not Yasir Arafat—announced that the Palestinian leader had ordered a halt to violence in the West Bank and Gaza highlights the failure of the U.S.-led summit meeting in Paris. This underscores the prospect that the al-Aqsa Intifada—as Palestinians have termed the week-long spasm of violence and rioting—is a turning point, not a transitory blip, in the seven-year-old Oslo peace process. To the Clinton Administration, engrossed in the peace process since 1993, this came as a painful setback. Chances are high, however, that the President will wade into Arab-Israeli diplomacy at least once again before leaving office-either for one last push toward agreement or to ward off the accusation that he focused on peace when opportunity beckoned but left a mess to his successor. Much will depend on whether violence actually abates soon, as promised; on Arafat's success in internationalizing the conflict, as his current UN gambit for an international inquiry suggests; on the political fortunes of Israel's Ehud Barak and the potential for a national unity government; and on the outcome of the November election (i.e., will the passing of the baton next January be characterized, by and large, by continuity in policy and personnel [a Gore victory] or reassessments and staffing up lag-time [a Bush victory]?
Conflict Resolution, Security, and Diplomacy
United States, Middle East, Israel, and Arab Countries
Uneven press coverage and shocking television footage have skewed analysis of the ongoing "Battle for Jerusalem"—the week-old explosion of violence that has swept from the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, to the West Bank, Gaza and Arab population centers in Israel. Seen in political and historical context, current events actually highlight a relatively low level of casualties, a general policy of restraint by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), and a confluence of interests among all elements of the Palestinian political spectrum—from the Palestinian Authority (PA) leadership to the street-level Fatah tanzim to the opposition Hamas—favoring violence against Israel.
Conflict Resolution, Security, and Diplomacy
Middle East, Israel, Palestine, Jerusalem, Gaza, and Arab Countries
The riots and violent demonstrations of Israeli Arab citizens in the last few days have been the most violent in 18 years and can be compared only to the violent protests that occurred in response to the massacres in the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatilah by Christian Phalanges in September 1982. Israeli Arabs did not give vent to such violence and rage even during the Palestinian Uprising (Intifadah) in the Territories. Although most of the Israeli Arab citizens have not taken part in the current violence, it seems from their reactions that most of them—especially the Muslim population—identify with the expressions of rage (Christian, Northern Bedouin, and Druze villages took no part in the latest incidents).
With talks completed between senior Israeli and Palestinian negotiators at a northern Virginia hotel, following Monday evening's tête-à-tête between Ehud Barak and Yasir Arafat, this week has marked the beginning of the Clinton administration's last big push to achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace. As the countdown to January 20, 2001 proceeds, the administration faces a difficult set of options to achieve its long-sought breakthrough on the peace process.
Jews are not only the Chosen People but also a people with a choice. The Israeli choices in this peace process have not always been pleasant, but the choice, particularly that to begin negotiating with the Palestinians, was basically a moral one. Israelis felt deep in their hearts that it was wrong for the Jewish people to remain dominators of another people. Although there are some advantages gained by holding the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Israel could not remain a Jewish state and be a dominating country at the same time.
The wishes of the Palestinian and Israeli peoples and the situation in which they find themselves mandate a resolution to the conflict. The fact that all three parties—Americans, Palestinians and Israelis—are motivated to reach a deal quickly makes this goal more readily attainable. However, in spite of the wish to reach an agreement before the American elections, this need is not absolute, for two reasons. Firstly, the peace process is not a partisan issue in the U.S. It is not a real catastrophe if an agreement doesn't take place in the next six weeks because negotiations are going to continue with whoever is elected, Gore or Bush. Secondly, "lame duck" presidents have managed in the past to accomplish great things in the Middle East.
The political status of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem is the subject of final status negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. According to press reports, at one moment in the Camp David negotiations last July, senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat asked his Israeli counterpart: "How do you know that your Holy Temple was located there?" A Jerusalem Report cover story (September 11) placed this in the context of a growing Palestinian denial of the existence of the First and Second Temples. "It's self-evident that the First Temple is a fiction," one Palestinian archaeologist at Bir Zeit University is quoted as saying. "The Second also remains in the realm of fantasy."
Last Sunday, the world breathed a sigh of relief as the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) Central Council voted to postpone a declaration of statehood until at least November 15, 2000. Less noticed, however, has been the internal battle over what is perhaps the second most important political issue on the Palestinian political agenda—the drafting of the Palestinian Constitution. Within the Palestinian Authority (PA) today, the constitution is the focus of an increasingly bitter debate pitting PLO "outsiders" against West Bank/Gaza "insiders." The outcome of this contest will determine not only the future of the PLO as a revolutionary movement and political institution but it may also have far-reaching implications for any future Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.